Dunkirk Piermaster Commander J Campbell Clouston RN Honored as Hometown Hero

Montreal-born Commander J. Campbell Clouston RN honored as a Hometown Hero at a commemorative ceremony in Montreal PQ September 21st. Event was attended by Clouston’s son from England and grandson from Australia. In keeping with navy traditions, the ceremony included a military band, the firing of a cannon, a minute of silence, the ringing of a ship’s bell, and the tossing of flowers into the water.

The Government of Canada is committed to connecting Canadians to the significant events that contributed to our country’s rich history and heritage, particularly as we mark the centennial of the First World War, the 75th anniversary of the Second World War and the 375th anniversary of the city of Montreal. In 1940, Commander J. Campbell Clouston played a pivotal role during Operation Dynamo in the evacuation of trapped British, French and Belgian troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France. The majority of the 338 000 troops that were saved from Dunkirk embarked from the east mole under Clouston’s command. His personal example of courage was largely responsible for the maintenance of discipline and efficiency in the successful operation.

J. Campbell Clouston was born near the Lachine Canal in Montreal, Quebec, on August 31, 1900, to William Stewart Clouston and Evelyn Campbell, from Lachine. Subsequently living across from the Pointe-Claire Yacht Club, “Campbell,” as referred to by family and friends, learned to sail on nearby Lake Saint Louis, winning, the Challenge Cup in 1913. He attended Lower Canada College, and then McGill University where he studied engineering for a year before enlisting in Britain’s Royal Navy in 1918 as a special entry cadet.

Over the next two decades, Clouston rose through the officer ranks. He trained at the Royal Naval Gunnery School at HMS Excellent, Whale Island, Portsmouth, later serving as gunnery commander at this establishment in the first half of the 1930s. He also obtained his air pilot’s license. During his tenure at the school, the Admiralty had Clouston develop anti-aircraft tactics to neutralize the growing airborne threat posed by planes on Britain’s naval fleet. Students were subsequently trained in these new techniques.

He was appointed to command the destroyer HMS Isis in 1937. In 1940, with Isis laid up for repairs following intense action during the Norwegian campaign, and as British, French and Belgian soldiers were being pushed back to the coast of France at Dunkirk by advancing German forces, Commander Clouston, took part in Operation Dynamo (May 26 – June 4) to evacuate the trapped Allied troops. As piermaster of the east mole, while under enemy fire, he worked courageously around the clock for six days organizing and overseeing the boarding of troops onto waiting ships.

Although expectations were for 45,000 to be evacuated, the “Miracle of Dunkirk” resulted in more than 338,000 troops saved. The majority of those were embarked from the east mole under Clouston’s command. After a brief meeting in England, and while returning to Dunkirk on June 2 to coordinate the rescue of remaining French and Belgian soldiers, his motor launch was attacked and sunk by enemy aircraft. Campbell Clouston perished at sea and was later laid to rest at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Becklingen War Cemetery in Germany. In the London Times, Captain William Tennant, Senior Naval Officer at Dunkirk and future Admiral, described the actions of the pier party who worked without rest for days, writing: “No one is more deserving of praise than Commander Clouston.”

The Clouston family has deep roots in Canada extending back to the late-eighteenth century when Clouston’s great-grandfather arrived from OrkneyScotland, as an agent of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Subsequent generations also held positions in the company, with his grandfather, James Stewart Clouston, being chief trader and chief factor at the Lachine post for a decade. Other family members became involved in organized sports and Canada’s growing financial sector, including his father and his uncle, Sir Edward Seaborne Clouston, who held leadership roles with the Bank of Montreal. It was this same uncle who played in the very first indoor ice hockey game in 1875 and who was also a trustee of the Stanley Cup. It is noteworthy that J. Campbell was also an avid hockey player.

Commander Clouston joins a growing list of Canadians who have been recognized for their achievements during the First World War or the Second World War. Launched by Parks Canada in 2015 as a community-based initiative, Hometown Heroes honours and tells the stories of ordinary citizens, both civilian and military, who contributed to Allied efforts during the two world wars and also provides Canadians with unique opportunities to connect with history. To date, more than 100 Canadians from across the country have been recognized through interpretive panels displayed on the Parks Canada website and at national historic sites in their hometown. By sharing these exemplary stories with Canadians, we express gratitude for their service and sacrifices.

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